Apologetics consists in defending the faith by explaining the reasons for belief in Revelation. It is summed up in Saint Peter's exhortation to “always be prepared to make a defence to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1Peter 3:15). Recently, however, several apologists have been stressing the need to engage not just the mind but also the imagination. This strand of apologetics has been called imaginative apologetics.
In a previous post, Holly Ordway recommended and explained her top five books on imaginative apologetics. Here is the rest of the interview, where she explains some more recommended readings and her own books on imaginative apologetics.
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Before going on to your extended shortlist, can you tell us a bit about the two books that you have published on imaginative apologetics Tales of Faith and Apologetics and the Christian Imagination? Can you also explain what got you into imaginative apologetics? To give them in reverse order, in Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith, ‘integrated’ sums up my approach. I arguing for the both-and. We need imagination. We need the intellect. I am not arguing for the imagination instead of the intellect, but rather in addition to it.
This book arose partly out of my teaching at Houston Christian University, and out of my apologetics work in general. It is an introduction to imaginative apologetics. Why do we need it? How do we do it?
In the book, I make the case for what I briefly explained in this interview: what I call the meaning gap; this gap between how we understand Christian words and what our audience understands. A lot ofApologetics and the Christian Imaginationis about identifying the meaning gap, really getting it, seeing it, and then saying, “Okay. How do we get past that?” So often, we just talk past the very people we are trying to help and it ends up with frustration on both sides. This book attempts to show how to get past the meaning gap. That is Apologetics and the Christian Imagination.
"How do you talk about things like virtue and sin with people who are not Christians? Using great literature is a really great way to do that, especially if you can use pre-Christian literature."
In Tales of Faith, I try to do exactly what it says in the subtitle: to be a guide.
This book goes through five works from ancient literature, such as the Odyssey and Greek myth; five works from mediaeval literature, such as the poem Pearl, some of the Old English elegies, Beowulf; and The Divine Comedy.
In each case, I give a short introduction, assuming that the reader has probably not heard of these books or read them.
Many of them are great works, like the marvellous medieval poem The Dream of the Rood, but how many people have heard of it outside scholars of English literature? Not a lot. So, I give a short introduction and an excerpt from the text—or in a case of a poem, like The Dream of the Rood, the whole text—and then I have discussion questions and resources, and even some art activities.
The body of the book helps people see how to actually use literature for evangelization and discipleship.
In the first couple of chapters, I talk about why we should do this approach.
Everyone agrees that we should use literature for evangelization. I say, “Okay. This is how you would do it. Let's talk about Beowulf. Here is an excerpt. Here is how you could talk about sin. Grendel is a great image of anger and envy.” Things like that. This book allows people to put imaginative apologetics into practice, in the classroom for instance.
All of this came out of my teaching, including teaching non-Christian groups. How do you talk about things like virtue and sin with people who are not Christians? Using great literature is a really great way to do that, especially if you can use pre-Christian literature. That is is why I include some of the ancients.
You could have a discussion group. If you want to help your fellow Christians to go deeper, why not talk about a piece of literature? A non-threatening, inviting space allows us to encounter these ideas about grace and the spiritual life without the direct pressure of saying, “This applies to you. What are you going to do about it?” If we have a bit of distance, it allows you to engage with it more fully. This is the paradox of literature. By being a little bit distant, you get closer.
"We need the precision of abstract language. Absolutely! But we also need the imaginative experience."
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